Snow is gone, ticks are back

In between recent rain showers, I spent a few hours felling and bucking some trees on a nearby property we have the privilege to hunt. My dog Rocket joined me on that rainy Saturday, and by Tuesday I had carefully removed half-a-dozen black-legged ticks imbedded on his cape.

Each fall and each spring I am caught off guard by the black-legged ticks I find active while snow is present and it seems too cold for bugs. Black-legged ticks thrive on cool conditions, entirely different than the wood ticks we are used to seeing each May and June.

While wood ticks can be a nuisance, black-legged ticks can be deadly. Black-legged ticks host borrelia, the causative agent of Lyme disease as well as a variety of other bacterial infectors – anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis to name just a few. Wood ticks can also carry bacterial infectors – Rocky Mountain spotted fever is one, but their mouth parts and feeding style make them much less likely to transmit the disease. The mouth parts of the black-legged tick, on the other hand, result in a lot of back-and-forth between tick and host. This greatly increases chances for transmitting infections.

Through the years, my dog has tested positive for anaplasma, babesia and ehrlichia. Several years back, after being blindsided by a severe fever and knocked out of hunting season for a few days, I tested positive for Lyme disease. When diagnosed within a few weeks of a tick bite, most of these infections can be quickly and easily treated with antibiotics, but if misdiagnosed or left to linger, the results can be devastating. I have some friends who continue to suffer severe consequences.

Black-legged ticks and the diseases they carry are here to stay in central Wisconsin, but as nasty as they sound, they should not prevent you from enjoying the outdoors. Just step up your vigilance and prevention.

Rather than wait for symptoms, I have decided to get the dog tested for tick-borne diseases each winter following hunting season. I also pay close attention to my own health and repellents are now included as a regular part of our pre-hunt preparation.

We’ve got a lot more habitat work to finish now that the snow is gone. Rocket now wears his flea and tick collar and you know we will both be sprayed down with repellent before our next trip afield.

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